In Korea, many students with academic excellence want to go into law or medicine. Naturally, prosecutors, judges and medical doctors are the super elite of Korean society, and it is not uncommon for them to occasionally occupy important positions in government. However, the problem is that due to the nature of their occupation, they tend to stay in their home countries and, aside from the odd vacation, may not know the world very well. Of course, it all depends on the person, but it is generally true.
For this reason, if many of the president’s aides were former prosecutors, they might inadvertently give the wrong advice to the president, due to their lack of knowledge and experience. That is why the president needs experts, especially on foreign affairs. Otherwise, mistakes will happen inexorably.
Another possible problem of former prosecutors is that, due to the nature of their former profession, they tend to see things as black-and-white. However, the world is a colorful place with cultural diversity, which does not consist only of things that could be designated lawful or unlawful. That is why the president needs advisers and aides who have a global perspective and experience in international relations. Otherwise, the president is likely to be ill-advised on important matters.
Currently, South Korea is caught in the crossfire between China, Russia and the United States. Under the circumstances, if our government makes a mistake or a wrong decision, the outcome could be irreparably disastrous. Therefore, President Yoon needs experts on the above three countries whom he can rely upon whenever he needs advice.
The Korean government needs experts on Japan, too. Japan is radically different from Korea or other Asian countries. We might assume that every Korean knows Japan well enough, but the chances are that we do not. The Japanese way of thinking, their mores, norms and customs are drastically different from ours. That is why we need advice from specialists when we deal with issues related to Japan. Otherwise, we will fail in our relationship with Japan.
The US is another country we should know because she is quite different from Korea or any other country on Earth. For example, the US consists of 50 states, which means 50 independent governments, even though the federal government has sovereignty. Each state government, just like the federal government, typically has its own secretaries under the governor, as well as its own Supreme Court, House of Representatives and Senate. Thus, there are dozens of speakers of state houses of representatives in the US.
By contrast, there is just one single speaker of the United States House of Representatives in the federal government. It is the third most important post by protocol, following only the president and the vice president. After the president and vice president, the House speaker is next in line to the presidency.
Besides, the US House of Representatives is a mighty government institution that can do pivotal things, such as preventing the American president from pulling out all US troops from South Korea. Thus, the importance of the US House speaker cannot be stressed too much. Foreign experts wonder if the new administration of South Korea is aware of such crucial aspects.
Both geographically and metaphorically, China, Japan, Russia and the US surround the Korean Peninsula. It is thus imperative that President Yoon have specialists on the above four countries near him, so he could seek their advice whenever necessary. They certainly do not have to approve of the policies of the Chinese, Japanese, Russian or American governments entirely. Instead, advisers should have broad, correct knowledge and respect for the basic customs of the countries they are responsible for, plus connections and human networks in those countries.
We may think that we know those four countries quite well, but in fact, we do not. Our knowledge of those countries can be shallow and superficial, acquired merely from books or travelers’ impressions. Since amateurish knowledge of foreign countries is prone to being mistaken, we need professional knowledge.
We also need a special task force to prepare for the outcome of the Ukraine War and the crisis of Taiwan, because those two international incidents will surely affect the future of South Korea. If we do not prepare for a future crisis, we will be in great danger when the time comes. Then, it will be too late to do something belatedly.
In the whirlwind of international crises, we do not have the luxury of making mistakes in foreign affairs. A leader does not have to be an expert on everything himself. A great leader is someone who is capable of finding, appointing and then listening to experts.
We have been disillusioned with our political leaders for a long time. We strongly hope that, unlike his predecessors, our current leader does not disappoint us. He should value experts’ opinions and be prepared for any future crisis. Kim Seong-kon
Kim Seong-kon is a professor emeritus of English at Seoul National University and a visiting scholar at Dartmouth College. The views expressed here are his own. -- Ed.
By Korea Herald (email@example.com